Public education is expected to be based in local schools again when the fall term begins.
At least that’s the plan, said Jillian Balow, Wyoming’s superintendent of Public Instruction.
“I’m confident we will be successful … in reopening schools in the fall,” she said during a Wednesday afternoon briefing about Wyoming’s continuing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
She outlined the state’s new three-tiered plan for when public K-12 education resumes for the 2020-21 school year. The first and preferred option is for schools to reopen as normal, with some new health precautions to ensure safety of students and staff.
In Tier I, which is called the “Open” option, will have minimal distance learning on an as-needed basis. Most students will be in their respective schools with “social distancing and face coverings to the greatest extent possible,” according to an outline of the plan.
Tier II, the “Hybrid” option, is a combination of in-person and distance learning and can be implemented at local levels as situations dictate, Balow said.
Tier III is the “Closed” option and is essentially what public schools had to do to finish out this past school year, where no schools were open and all education was handled online and remotely.
“No one was prepared, and I mean no one, was prepared to shift overnight” like schools had to do in response to the coronavirus in the spring, she said.
While distance learning was successful for the most part, the state still couldn’t conduct its annual assessments and some kids fell through the cracks, Balow said.
When talking to people around the state, said said the overwhelming question is if schools will reopen in the fall.
“I hear one question and one question only in every conversation,” she said. “That is, ‘Will schools open in the fall?’”
Making that happen will depend a lot on parents, she said. That means efforts at home before kids go to school to make sure health regulations are followed.
“Take responsibility,” she said. “New health and safety protocols will be in place for a long time, perhaps forever.”
Public health orders continue
To kick off the briefing, Gov. Mark Gordon said that until about a week ago, he had planned to let Wyoming’s public health orders expire at the end of June. But a recent uptick in confirmed COVID-19 cases changed that, as he extended them through at least July 15.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the state has had 1,203 positive cases of the virus and 311 probable positives, he said. Of those 1,514 combined cases, 1,097 have recovered. That includes 43 confirmed and 13 probable cases in Campbell County. Those cases represent a 27% increase in confirmed cases in the last two weeks.
“What is disappointing about that number is that we continue to rise,” Gordon said. “I was thinking for some time we were doing pretty well.”
The governor also said he has been closely watching as other states have had to reinstate their virus restrictions.
“I, like many other governors, have been anxious to reopen the economy,” he said. “What’s really disappointing now nationally (is) as people act with carelessness we’re seeing states having to reconsider closure.”
That’s something he doesn’t want to contemplate for Wyoming. As an example, Colorado allowed bars to reopen again June 19, but announced Wednesday they would be closed again.
“I cannot imagine having to reopen your business for a period of time, then having to close again,” he said.
While restrictions remain in place, including social distancing in public places like restaurants and bars, along with staff wearing masks and sanitizing, Gordon said he doesn’t anticipate having to backtrack.
“We’re very confident the people of Wyoming will take this responsibility carefully,” he said.
Even so, he also acknowledged some people are antsy about having their personal freedoms impacted.
“I know some of the people are going to give us the victory symbol one finger at a time,” Gordon said.
Gordon also announced that the state and mobile device app developer ProudCrowd have partnered to make the Care19 Diary app available free to Wyoming residents.
People in North Dakota and South Dakota are already using it to anonymously help track COVID-19 cases, hotspots and how to avoid them.
Users are not asked for any personal data and are assigned a random ID number, then the app will create a diary of where a person has visited throughout the day. People then can review the diary to see where they’ve been and the app will suggest locations to visit or report what locations people have spent more than 10 minutes at.
Gordon said the app’s history can be cleared at any time and isn’t used to keep tabs on people. As the app is updated, it also will have an alert feature that could notify people if someone who has tested positive for the virus is nearby. It won’t identify or locate the person and participation is entirely voluntary.
He said more information on the app can be found at covid19.2yo.gov.